Are there human-specific infectious diseases?

Session Date: 
May 16, 2020

Although humans are genetically very similar to the evolutionarily-related nonhuman hominids (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans), comparative studies suggest a surprising number of distinctly human differences in the incidence and/or severity of biomedical conditions. Some differences are due to anatomical changes that occurred during human evolution. However, many others cannot be explained either by these changes or by known environmental factors. There are a number of Distinctly Human Diseases and many infectious diseases primarily affect humans, which used to be a major causes of death but are less frequent because of sanitation, vaccines, antibiotics, the death rate in humans is now due to cardiac causes or cancer. This talk will provide an overview of distinctly human diseases and then highlight some of histopathological findings observed in a few of the infectious diseases, using also a human-like Cmah null mouse model lacking the CMAH gene (which was lost about 2-3 million years ago in the human population). Examples to be presented include mechanisms whereby Human Influenza A binds and invades human tracheal mucosa specifically, and not other species, and human-specific binding seen with Cholera toxin, Typhoid toxin and Neisseria gonorrhea.


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  2. Devaux CA, Mediannikov O, Medkour H, Raoult D. Infectious Disease Risk Across the Growing Human-Non Human Primate Interface: A Review of the Evidence. Front Public Health. 2019; 7:305. Epub 2019 Nov 5.
File 2020_05_16_03_Varki-Web.mp499.13 MB